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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Mask mandate put in place at Dallas County courthouses starting Monday

When Dallas County increased its COVID-19 risk level to orange, Administrative District Judge Maricela Moore said that triggered her decision to put in this mask mandate at Dallas County courthouses.

This means vaccinated or not, anyone who enters the courthouses must wear a mask. 

According to an order signed by Moore, starting Monday, masks will be required at all Dallas County courthouses, and any individual who refuses to comply may be prohibited from entering, that includes the George Allen Building, the Crowley Courthouse, and the Henry Wade Juvenile Justice center.

“These are individuals who have been summoned, so I have the responsibility so that when they do come and serve that, I have done everything to ensure their health and safety,” Judge Moore said.

Moore said additional staff, PPE, and social distancing protocols will be ready to go. 

“Sometimes, as a community, you have to work together and say it may be uncomfortable, but it’s the right thing to do,” she explained.

This order comes less than a week after Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates ordered by governmental entities, including counties, cities, school districts, and public health authorities. 

Abbott doubled down and defended this decision, saying this provides “clarity and uniformity on the state’s fight against COVID-19.”

“There will not be a discussion of a conflict because one does not exist,” Moore said. “He does not have the authority to control the courtrooms and I don’t think he intended to.”

In her signed order, Judge Moore cites the judiciary authority to take their own reasonable actions to avoid exposing court proceedings to the threat of COVID-19, according to the Texas Supreme Court. 

“The judiciary, that’s our lane, and we have a responsibility. We can’t delegate it to the governor. We have to take responsibility for the health and safety for those in our courtrooms,” Moore said.

“The courts really do have their own separate functioning in our system and you can’t just tell them what to do,” SMU law professor Dale Carpenter said.

Carpenter said Judge Moore’s order will stand due to limitations on the governor’s power.

“On the one hand, you have the broad authority of the governor to deal with public health emergencies, and on the other hand, the authority of the courts as an independent branch of government to control their own functioning and protect their own functioning,” he explained.

UT Southwestern’s most recent projections show that Dallas is bracing to surpass hospitalization numbers from last summer as the Delta variant spreads. 

As of Sunday, the state recorded 1,500 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Texas. The vast majority, according to health experts, are unvaccinated. 

However, if vaccination rates remain the same, UT Southwestern predicts Dallas County will reach 1,000 hospitalizations alone in two weeks.  

And in Tarrant County, it predicts 1,100 to 2,000 hospitalizations by mid-August.

That’s data Judge Moore said she’s been watching closely. 

“If that means that we have to put in certain safety protocols as simple as someone wearing a mask so someone has their right to a jury, that is what we are going to do,” she said.

FOX 4 reached out to Gov. Abbott’s office for a comment, but hasn’t gotten a response back yet.

Last week, Judge Moore put civil court hearings that occur in–person on pause to reassess their COVID-19 precautions. Those are back on starting Monday, along with the mask requirement.

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